Lethal friends

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib address the media after a "Friends of Syria" group meeting at the Adile Sultan Palace on Sunday, April 21, 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey. The United States said Sunday that it will double its non-lethal assistance to Syria's opposition as the rebels' top supporters vowed to enhance and expand their backing of the two-year battle to oust President Bashar Assad's regime. (AP Pho

After the so-called Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul Saturday, Syria, it seems, does not need any enemies, with friends like these.

Despite opposition demands for military aid – to allow for surgical strikes against regime army bases – Syria’s best friends instead upped nonlethal aid to the rebels. More than two years of war and at least 70,000 deaths warrant little other than night goggles, it seems.

First, they insist, the opposition must rid itself of all extremist elements. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S., with all its might, tried and failed to root out extremism. How does it expect the opposition to do so all on its own, especially when some of the Islamist elements are among the best fighters and most strategic leaders?

France and Britain say they will discuss arming the rebels within the next few weeks, but this reeks of procrastination and time-wasting.

President Bashar Assad has now all but admitted that the only option remaining is a “security” solution to put down what began as a peaceful uprising. All those months of discussing the establishment of a U.N. peace mission – and granting it access to certain areas of the country – was obviously used by the regime as a cynical ploy to bide time, so it could continue with its brutal crackdown for even longer.

And meanwhile the hypocrisy continues. Assad’s remaining friends – Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah – all condemn foreign intervention in Syria, all the while sending arms into the country and fighters across borders, or at least in the case of Baghdad, averting their eyes while militants travel to Syria, and arms fly in via Iran.

In many cases, no attempts to even hide this hypocritical, flagrant tactical support for Assad and his army are made, with Iranian and Syrian military officials continuing to meet frequently and publicly.

All the while, Syria’s “friends” and the U.N. seem to insist diplomacy can still win the day. As over one hundred people are dying each day – more than 6,000 in March alone – and the use of chemical weapons seems more and more likely to have occurred, what exactly is being done by the self-avowed friends of the opposition to minimize the violence?

The current U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, must recognize that his mission is a dying a slow death. When he took over from Kofi Annan the mission was already in intensive care: now it has fallen into a coma. It appears completely redundant, and keeping it alive is likely doing more harm than good. Maybe now it is time to turn off the life support.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 22, 2013, on page 7.




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